“Be careful what you wish for, it just might come true”, as the old saying goes. I was out to lunch with some female co-workers. The year is 2004. Many of us at this weekly ritual had been blessed with beautiful, healthy children but have been denied the luxury of deep pockets, thereby denying us of that world of mystery: stay-at-home motherhood. We could, of course, only dream of how lovely life could be as a stay-at-home mom. We all spoke of how wonderfully clean and immaculate our homes would be if only we stayed at home. We fantasized about the healthy, gourmet meals we would have time to make and present to our families at dinnertime. To us, lives as a stay-at-home mom would be as close to a perfect life as we could ever imagine.
My girlfriends and I would scoff at the mothers who had the nerve to patron busy lunch establishments like Panera Bread, children in tow, while we, the working moms, only had one hour to stand in line, place our order, scarf down our meal and help spread office gossip. Couldn’t these stay-at-home moms do just that and stay at home? Couldn’t they find another hour in their whole stay-at-home day to emerge out of their cozy suburban colonials just to grab a bite to eat with their screaming kids? Who could put a child through all that commotion and craziness? Didn’t these kids have naps to take like our own day care kids were doing at this exact time? Yes, the frustration was voiced often, but secretly, jealousy and envy were behind our words against the stay-at-home mom. The sisterhood of motherhood was never so divided as during our lunchtime conversations.
For as long as I can remember, if anyone were to ask me who I was as a person, I’d simply respond with what I was doing with my life at the time. My actions were the definition of me. When I was in college, I was an engineering student. When I got my first job, I was a design engineer. Revealing too much of my own personality was just to brazen, too egocentric to share with other people. At parties, I’d approach an acquaintance with the safest question there was, “Hello. So, what do you do?” Never was it a question of “What do you like to do”. Although subtlety different by just one word, the connotation of the phrase is dramatic. I have often believed one’s career defines the individual person. At least, that’s how I used to define myself as a person. When I became a mother, my perspective changed. I remember standing next to my son’s crib the first day of daycare and just sobbing. I pulled myself together on my way to work. Luckily, my work was only 5 minutes away from daycare so I’d count down the hours until noon just so I could spend my lunchtime with my little guy. I’d do this every day and I’d wish even more to be a stay-at-home mom. I still defined myself to others through my career but motherhood for me was too personal to ever throw out on the table as a job description. At parties I’d still respond with, “Oh, I’m an engineer” when asked the question of what I did. The fact that I was a working mom never entered into conversation. I’m not sure if it’s because the role of motherhood was too sacred, too complex of a role to define in one sentence, “…and I’m a mother…” I was much more than that and stating it in that way was too belittling. Or, was it the secret notion of longing to answer the question with the words, “I’m a stay-at-home mom”? No, either way, motherhood couldn’t be defined that simply and so I’d define myself to others, once again, through my latest career title.
But, by the time my son was 2 ½ years old, my career path was stagnant. Why not get out of the working world and take the plunge into stay-at-home motherhood? Well, easier said than done considering the fact my employer was funding my pursuit of an MBA. If I wanted to leave, I’d have to pay back the money or stay and “serve” for 2 additional years. After only 3 months of receiving my MBA my wish came true. My employer was forced to layoff 50 engineers and my name was on the list. I must have been the only one dancing to my car. Ironically, that day my son was at his grandparents’s house so I didn’t have to pick him up from daycare on my way home. After the news of my unemployment, I decided to take in a massage, my first ever, before heading home to talk with my husband on what our new future was going to look like.
I woke up the next morning just staring at the ceiling, alone in the bed. My husband was in the office down the hall. He probably figured he’d better get moving on gaining new business clients to ramp up his own business since our income had been slashed. All I could feel was guilt and a sense of emptiness and confusion. The bliss I experienced from the day before had vanished just like a dream over night. I had no job. I had no identity. Who was I now, without a job, without a title? What would I say at parties when I was asked, “So what do you do”? Ugh, for what had I wished? Was I a directionless person? I had no choice but to begin finding out the real me. The me without a job, without a title, just me.
I began my road of self-discovery almost 7 years ago. I had to learn to redefine my existence for myself and be happy in my own right. The day I was laid off was a turning point in my life. It was the day of new beginnings. Finally, I was able to stay home with our, at the time, 2 ½ year old son and raise him the way we had always wanted. Staying at home was right for us but it certainly didn’t please everyone. Many knew me as the career-minded, type-A personality, go-getter who was determined to “do it all”. My parents questioned where their $100,000 of college tuition had gone if I was not to continue to work in my field. I was given an opportunity to decide I didn’t want to “do it all”. I finally realized I had a choice. My husband and I have made financial sacrifices along the way. There were days when I thought I would lose my sanity. But since the “morning after” I have never, never regretted welcoming my wish into my and my family’s life. I know my son has benefited from my staying home and so have I, along with my husband and his business. Many wouldn’t dream of making the transition from one world into another, but for us it works. The day I was laid off from my job was the day I started finding myself and defining myself as a person, not a job title or career choice. It’s not that the day was important, but rather the importance that I got out of the day.
The cleanliness of my house may not meet the delusional high expectations set at that work luncheon with my girlfriends so long ago and I’ve been known to pick up fast food for dinner a time or two. But I no longer define myself as super woman. The world of working mom and the world of stay-at-home mom collided in my world 7 years ago to make my world and my definition of myself as just “me”. If you want to get to know me, then I can’t define it in one sentence. I’d be happy to tell you all about myself. Perhaps we could meet at Panera Bread sometime for lunch, say about noon? I’ll bring my son.